This prepping and survival blog post is about the advantages and disadvantages of using less-lethal weapons in self-defense. A “less-lethal” weapon is still a weapon. Although this type of weapon is not designed to kill your attacker, death can sometimes result: hence the name “less” lethal. There are a few types of less-lethal self-defense weapons available to the public. However, legal restrictions on these weapons are not uncommon, so check your local laws. And since death or serious injury can possibly result from the use of less-lethal weapons, you probably don’t want to use these weapons on anyone, except in a situation in which you are justified, legally and morally, in using deadly force against an attacker.
1. Pepper spray is widely available in many different forms. Some U.S. States and localities may restrict its possession, so check your local laws. Pepper spray works by causing pain to the attacker and by interfering with vision and breathing. Some pepper spray formulas are combined with tear gas, to cause profuse tearing and disorientation. Some formulas have a dye included in the spray to mark the attacker for possible identification by law enforcement at a later time. Pepper spray in any form can possibly be lethal, particularly by interfering with breathing. You might be tempted to use the most powerful version of pepper spray available. I suggest using one of the less powerful versions, since your goal is to keep the force non-lethal, if possible.
2. A stun gun uses a high voltage electric shock to disable an attacker. This type of weapon is often non-lethal, but can cause death or serious injury in some circumstances. There are two types. The first type requires you to get close enough to press the device against the body of the attacker. The second type instead fires a pair of probes (usually attached to wires), allowing you to stand off from your attacker by some number of feet (depending on the particular version of the device). Many States and localities restrict or prohibit the possession or use of stun guns; know your local laws. A good stun gun costs hundreds of dollars, much more than even high-end versions of pepper spray.
3. Less lethal shotgun ammunition has only recently reached the civilian market; previously it was available only to law enforcement. This type of weapon is often non-lethal, but can cause serious injury or death. Less lethal shotgun ammo will generally cause some level of injury to the attacker. Shots striking the attacker in the head, neck, spine, or chest are much more likely to be lethal or to cause serious injury. Shots striking the attacker in the arms, legs, or lower body are less likely to be lethal. This type of ammunition is capable of penetrating the body of an attacker, especially at close range. It will not necessarily just bounce off; and even when it does, some injury will likely result. The likelihood of serious injury or death depends on many factors; consult the manufacturer of the ammunition for more information.
The main advantage to this type of self-defense is that your actions usually will not result in the death of the attacker. When you use deadly force, legally, to kill an attacker, you might still face prosecution from an over-zealous district attorney. There might be a legal dispute about the exact circumstances and whether it was justified. There could be a lawsuit and the burden of attorney’s fees. With the less-lethal types of self-defense, you might avoid these legal difficulties.
Another “pro” is that you don’t have to deal with the emotional turmoil that might result from killing another human being. Even when killing is entirely justified, legally and morally, it is not such an easy thing (for most people) to have to kill someone. See this article by an experience fire arms instructor: The Hard Questions – Gracie’s Fireside Chat.
Some less-lethal weapons have fewer restrictions on the purchase and concealed carry of the weapon. However, laws on this topic vary greatly from one state to another, so know your local laws before you buy. It is usually easier to get a permit (if one is needed at all) to carry pepper spray or a small taser than to carry a concealed firearm. (Of course, you will need whatever permits are required to own a shotgun, before you can use less-lethal shotgun ammo.) And while tasers can be expensive, pepper spray is inexpensive and easy to use.
On the “con” side, less lethal weapons allow a determined attacker to continue attacking, or to return a while later for a second attack. This disadvantage is substantial, especially in a SHTF-scenario which might see an increase in civil unrest and in violent crimes. In my view, this is the main disadvantage to less-lethal weapons.
A particular disadvantage for the less-lethal shotgun rounds is that you have to be very careful to know what type of ammo is in the shotgun that you grab when facing an attacker. You don’t want to be in a situation where you think you have less-lethal ammo in the magazine, when in fact it is a full-power self-defense load of double-aught buckshot.
For certain types of pepper spray, the spray can end up in the air in the room, causing everyone to react with coughing and tearing eyes. This is especially a problem in confined spaces. The gel-type of pepper spray are less prone to this disadvantage.
The type of stun gun that requires you to physically press the device against your attacker’s body (rather than the type that shoots darts attached to wires) has a major disadvantage: you have to get very close to your attacker. This might result in your attacker causing you serious bodily injury before you can disable him with the stun gun.
Another substantial disadvantage occurs when your attacker is armed with a gun. They can use deadly force easily with their firearm, but you can only respond to that threat with substantially less force.
My conclusion is that less-lethal weapons have their place. But when the SHTF, there is no substitute for a firearm when defending yourself and your family.